Funny thing about the apocalypse: it hasn’t happened as of yet, but we all pretty much know what to expect based upon how it would come about. We all say “If society came crashing down I’d do such and such.” We all have pretty much decided whether we will be good or bad once the rules we follow no longer apply. The question is if it really did all come crashing down, would things go the way we planned? Enter Empire City, your standard New York City clone and the world of inFAMOUS, the first PS3 game from the makers of the Sly Cooper series. You are Cole MacGrath, your average everyday nobody with an average everyday job that is going nowhere. Suddenly everything changes and you are the center of attention. One has to ask, “Do I make the best of the situation or do I just take advantage of it and make things better for myself?” As you play through the game, almost everything you do involves a moral choice; choices that cumulatively shape your character and determine how you will progress. Imagine GTAIII with a conscience. You might think that sounds like no fun at all – but then you pick up this game and see just how wrong you are.
Cole MacGrath is a bicycle messenger. He loves his girlfriend, Trish Dailey and his best friend Zeke Jedidiah Dunbar is like a brother to him. His life is simple: he does his job, hangs out with Zeke getting into whatever trouble/fun they can find and he spends time with the woman he loves, who coincidentally is a paramedic. This comes in really handy the day he is told to deliver a package to the Historic District. Turns out this package is a “bomb” and it makes Cole ground zero for the worst disaster Empire City has ever seen – The Historic District is now quite aptly named as it is marked by a huge crater. The Warren looked like crap before and now it’s worse with half the penitentiary looking like something took a huge bite out of it. Last but not least, the Neon District is just not looking so colorful these days, and this is still during the good times. Three days after the explosion, you wake up and start displaying electrical abilities Trish and Zeke are scared at first, but they help you control your powers. The storytelling is done in comic book form which is very fitting for the game and on the morning of the fourteenth day, you are given control of Cole and the story begins – but is it the story of a superhero, or that of a supervillain? That’s really up to you now. The concept of good Cole vs. bad Cole is presented very well and Cole’s appearance changes as he becomes more heroic or evil, a la KOTOR or Fable. The only unfortunate dip in the storytelling is that the main missions are exactly the same regardless of your path. I noticed during one cutscene on my evil playthrough that Cole’s aura was blue (that of the hero) despite my distinctly evil karma rating. This was not enough to take away from overall enjoyment of the game, especially since the numerous side missions do change based upon your karma. Good Cole always has to stand alone against his enemies. Conversely, bad Cole at certain points gets to have minions. Your enemies also change based upon your karma: good Cole only fights bad guys but evil Cole often has to fight everyone. I can only hope to be wrong about this but right now infamous has (for me) the best storytelling in a 2009 videogame. Without spoiling, I will say that the big reveal was a jaw-dropper for me.
comic book-style cutscenes
Empire City is an “ugly yet beautiful world.” The city was blown up; the hero is powered by electricity so his enemies blackout the city to try and render him powerless – there simply is not much to look at in Empire City. Regardless of this, the backgrounds are well drawn, the framerate is solid and the character models show that there was effort put in by the artists. This is a post-apocalyptic scenario, but only within the actual city. The rest of the world is fine and that is part of the dynamic the game is going for. Empire City is falling apart, both figuratively and literally and it shows as you progress. If you become a hero, the city gets brighter as you restore power. If you become infamous, the city looks bleak and dismal; fewer people walk the streets and the sky eventually is red during the day. It’s a shame that this game is so prone to glitches. There are even places where you can intentionally glitch the game and have Cole walk and fall through solid objects. There is also some slight popup where cars just appear out of nowhere, especially on bridges. Aside from this, the camera has no real issues that I can recall. I had no problem during boss battles or even regular fights in tight alleyways. The draw distance is awesome – using “precision” which is basically a sniper mode, you can headshot an enemy through a crack in their shield from a rooftop. In terms of detail, there are not many games on the PS3 to rival this one; I just hope the inevitable sequel deals with the glitches and popup.
MUSIC/SOUND EFFECTS/VOICE ACTING
I swear I’d pay to be able to hear the conversations between Sasha and Kessler – that must be some twisted dialogue. It’s hard to talk about this game without giving spoilers because the storytelling was terrific. Audio plays a big part in the game because you spend the entire game collecting “dead drops,” which are encrypted satellite transmissions left by John, an NSA agent, for his handlers to find. It’s a very cool touch that when you are near a dead drop satellite that you can hear a transmission sound since there are other dishes on rooftops . Cole owns a cell phone, and everybody seems to know his number. He gets a call at least before and after every mission and if they don’t have his number, they just hack his frequency and then he has to listen. Then we have Sasha, who speaks to Cole telepathically – saying more than that would give too much away; just play the game. Top all of that chatter with a musical score that just fits no matter where you are in the game and we have a winner before we even mention the voice acting (hear it now at https://www.infamousthegame.com/ ). Jason Cottle (Cole) is just bad-ass in this lead role. I would stop right there but the character of John is voiced by none other than Phil LaMarr. If you don’t know who Phil LaMarr is, you probably still love him. He’s voiced many characters on Cartoon Network and cartoons from other stations as well. He’s been in multiple video games and….who am I kidding? All I have to say is that this is the guy that voiced Samurai Jack – the rest is history. You want to know about sound effects – in a game about a guy that controls electricity? Let’s just say my neighbors must have hated me because the explosions were insane. The final power you obtain, aptly named Thunderstorm, will probably make the picture frames fall off your wall on a good surround system. Sucker Punch is definitely going for sensory overload in this department and I welcomed every moment of it.
Cole has a good deal of abilities at his disposal and mapping them to the PS3 controller seemed like this game would be difficult to control; fortunately the pacing of the game makes movement, combat and item hunting really simple to pick up if you sit and play the game for five to ten minutes. It’s really comforting to have a game with a platforming element in it where someone said “I’m tired of falling to my death.” Now there is the fact that Cole will not die from a fall of any height (unless he lands in water), but no one wants to fall into a group of armed bad guys either. This was fixed by what has been described as “AI jumping.” You have to literally try to miss a jump off of a rooftop and even then you will probably grab onto something. Staying above ground level is a very important part of combat. Cole is extremely durable, but he is not at all bulletproof. You have about a 100% chance of dying if you try to go up against a group of Reapers/Dust Men/First Sons without having anywhere to hide and/or recharge. Recharging is the healing dynamic in the game and you can do it anywhere there is power (hint: when there is no power, make some by zapping things and powering them up). Finding your way around is never a problem between the mini-map and the L3 button. L3 is probably the most important button in this game, even though it is not an attack. It makes Cole release an EMP wave that makes all powered objects in range of it glow. When you are trying to find your last 10 blast shards, this tool will make you drop to your knees like Jerry Falwell and have you thanking Jesus. The combat is nothing to write home about but I just had so much fun playing it. You can challenge yourself by seeing how long you can stay alive on ground level using just your standard attack. If you can last more than a good two minutes on hard then you should pat yourself on the back. Once you start getting some of the more destructive abilities you just want to get some payback. That random guy on the rooftop with a rocket launcher needs to pay; so do the garbage golems and trash scorpions. Practice hitting moving targets at long range; you aren’t using a mouse here and the enemies can move really well when they want to. The major difference between good and evil powers is that the good powers are more precise and the evil powers are literally for blowing stuff up and causing rampant carnage. There is the famous “Cole cannot shoot through a chain link fence” complaint, but this was never an issue for me. There is almost always a safe way to get rid of your enemies; in the later areas where that becomes less and less possible, you should be good enough to improvise. You’re a guy who got his powers like two weeks ago; improvisation is the name of the game – but explaining that further would be a spoiler as well.
REPLAY VALUE/TROPHY & ACHIEVEMENT HUNTING
For the trophy hunters, know up front that it takes minimum two playthroughs for the platinum trophy. The good news about that is that this game is fun as hell to play and if you get all the collectibles on the first playthrough, you only really have to worry about playing through the main story. This may sound like I am chumping out but I highly recommend playing the game on normal first and on hard the second time around. The reason I say this is to keep some kind of challenge in the game. I got beat into the ground at some points the first time I played and that was the heroic story on normal. My second time around, I played the infamous track on hard and mopped the floor with everyone including the final boss. When you get good at this game, you just start raging all over the bad guys. The stunts are a bitch to complete and you really want to get those out of the way as soon as you can. Unlocking all of the abilities and the upgrades is really just a matter of patience. Until you clear an area, there are always plenty of enemies to fight for experience points. There are one or two trophies that may seem really difficult like Hotfoot and AC/DC, but even those are easy once you determine how you will accomplish them. Since there is no online component to this game, there is no way to trophy boost for those looking for an easy road. There is not much to do on a third or greater playthrough if you have your platinum trophy other than just having some fun, which is easy because the game is not that long. Still, when you are done with this game, you are done – all you really want to know is when the sequel will come out.
infamous was the first big exclusive for the PS3 in 2009. Due to timing and early game info, it was heavily compared to [PROTOTYPE], but having played both, let me assure you the games are nothing alike (and you should experience both for what they are worth). The story in this game was fresh compared to what I have been seeing in games lately and it made room for an inevitable sequel that I for one am dying to play. The audio and video were simply beautiful and make my mouth water with anticipation of what the second game could look like (can we please have it in 1080p instead of 720?). The gameplay was very good, not great and I definitely want to see a bit more variation in powers in the next iteration, but sticky grenades and thunderstorms are oh so satisfying; things like that need no fixing. A game that begs to be played twice is definitely worth the price tag for a pure single-player experience, and this is a gem all PS3 owners should have in their library.
Final Score: 9.6